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First Sucessful Claim of Disability Discrimination against a Recruitment Agency

employmenttrib.gifThe first disability discrimination case has been brought against a recruitment agency - Sales Link Services - and won. The case in hand concerned a deaf person, Pauline Alexander:

Although Alexander is deaf, that had not prevented her from formerly being director of a property company and, having applied to the agency in her present occupational guise as a diversity trainer, she felt she was well qualified to work in the field. But Sales Link Services had other ideas.

"I was asked to phone in, which I did using TypeTalk [a relay telephone service for deaf people]," says Alexander. "The person I spoke to said he thought my hearing loss would be an impediment to doing the job. He asked me to send a CV, but contacted me the following week, saying that although they did not doubt my capabilities, they would not invite me for interview or registration because of my hearing loss."

When Alexander pointed out that this was discriminatory, the agency backtracked, inviting her for interview.

The Employment Tribunal awarded Pauline Alexander £5,000 in compensation plus legal fees, against Sales Link Services. You can read more via the link below.

Source:
Rights and Wrongs

Rights and wrongs
Ben Furner
The Guardian,
Monday May 12 2008

For the first time, a UK recruitment agency has been found guilty of disability discrimination. Ben Furner asks what lessons can be learned by all parties

When Pauline Alexander applied for temping work to Sales Link Services - a north London recruitment agency with a range of housing and construction industry clients - in the summer of 2006, little did she anticipate the trouble that would come of it. Although Alexander is deaf, that had not prevented her from formerly being director of a property company and, having applied to the agency in her present occupational guise as a diversity trainer, she felt she was well qualified to work in the field. But Sales Link Services had other ideas.

"I was asked to phone in, which I did using TypeTalk [a relay telephone service for deaf people]," says Alexander. "The person I spoke to said he thought my hearing loss would be an impediment to doing the job. He asked me to send a CV, but contacted me the following week, saying that although they did not doubt my capabilities, they would not invite me for interview or registration because of my hearing loss."

When Alexander pointed out that this was discriminatory, the agency backtracked, inviting her for interview.

An employment tribunal recently ruled that Sales Link Services discriminated against her by refusing to interview her because of her deafness - the first disability discrimination case brought against a recruitment agency, according to the Equality and Human Rights Commission. Alexander's claim was supported by the Royal National Institute for Deaf People.

Alexander says she has found the whole experience harrowing and exhausting, feeling that "the system doesn't support disabled people", after her initial experience with Sales Link Services through to wrestling with the agency industry body, the Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC) and the tribunal system itself.

"I feel shocked to have been treated in this way," she says. "More than 10 years on from the Disability Discrimination Act becoming law, I really would have hoped employers would behave better than this. And of course I'm a diversity trainer - what hope is there for other disabled people who don't know their way around the law?"

She adds: "I'd also like to see an overhaul of the tribunal system to make it more 'disability friendly', including deaf and disability awareness training for all tribunal staff, especially those on tribunal panels". She has written to the tribunal service, asking them to investigate her experiences.

While recruitment agencies should not need to worry about the kind of compensation figures that the Prison Service had to pay out in 2005 for a disability discrimination case (in excess of £400,000), few people would argue that ending up in court is ideal. Sales Link Services had to pay £5,000 in compensation plus legal fees.

Alexander delivered a presentation last year to the REC about her experiences. Tom Hadley, director of external relations at the REC, acknowledges there are issues for the recruitment world around diversity but says the same is true for most industries, and argues the REC is ahead of the game. "We employ spot checkers to see that members are doing things right - more than many trade associations." Hadley would not comment on Alexander's case as it is subject to an ongoing investigation, but confirmed the organisation "does put companies out of membership" in serious cases where their code of conduct is contravened.

There are about 10m disabled adults in the UK, and about 6.8m of those are of working age, according to the Employers' Forum on Disability - and most people become disabled during their working lives, not as a result of old age.

If you break a leg, don't expect to be covered by the act (as your disability needs to be "long term", which is 12 months). Being "disabled" in the eyes of the law covers not just those who are wheelchair users, or people who are visually or hearing impaired; it also covers those with "hidden" impairments - people with epilepsy, dyslexia or mental health problems.

But given that recruitment agencies, and the organisations that use them, have obligations under the Disability Discrimination Act, how do they become "disability confident"? The Employers' Forum on Disability (EFD) has just updated its guidance on managing recruitment, which covers a broad range of issues including suitable interviewing techniques and recommendations on how to make job descriptions and person specifications disability appropriate.

The EFD also publishes advice for those responsible for obtaining recruitment services, highlighting key areas and questions procurement managers should be asking of agencies looking for contracts.

And disability charities such as Radar point out the business case for recruiting disabled workers, an enthusiastic group of people who want to work but find it more difficult to get jobs than non-disabled people. The EFD's chief executive, Susan Scott Parker, points out: "Recruitment agencies and other employers which take on disabled people will reap the benefits - not only by widening their pool of talent, but also by reflecting the make-up of their customer base and, of course, meeting their legal obligations."

Disability organisations may say it's better for business, services and disabled people themselves to deal with disability well - even if it's just about doing the right thing. But the Alexander case also shows that the law has teeth, and there's a cost for employers, including recruitment agencies, who simply pay lip service to the legislation.

Comments (4)

I think its better to consult a online recruitment agency, because there are so many benefits in this......

To Recruitment Agency/shivsans,

And you're not biased?

Online recruitment agency are no better either. I've spent YEARS dealing with them with very little success despite that some of the jobs I've applied I'm more than qualified and experienced for it etc.

In some way it's easier for online agencies to discriminate and get away with it.

In the course of my work I keep coming across similar instances, most recently from a person in HR who worked for a member company of the EFD and who really should have known better than to trot out the usual negatives such as "we're worried how they (the deaf applicant) will communicate" and "we have Health and Safety concerns" - how about assessing this in person at an interview or in a job risk assessment, the correct way to do it. Many of the big recruitment agencies have the 2 ticks symbol dished out by JCP and consider themselves above reproach. When I ask them about how they would work with a Deaf applicant the true extent of their knowledge is quickly revealed. What a joke.

How can you prove employers not making reasonable adjustment during an interview for a person with hiden disability who can not walk far.

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